David Houghton Suddeth
1929 - 1992
"I followed my dream into space"
Houghton Suddeth, retired NASA spacecraft engineer, mountaineer,
social and political activist, recreational sailor, bibliophile
and avid rifle and pistol marksman, died in his home in Bowie,
Maryland, of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, non-Hodgkins Lymophoma,
and Pneumonia, January 25th, 1992 at the age of 63.
Born January 3, 1929 in Rugby, North Dakota to Rev. Vernon Troy
Suddeth and Alma Houghton Suddeth. At age eight he became one
of the youngest members of the National Inventors' Congress, having
developed a unique window washer, a potato peeler and masher,
and a shampooing device and was a featured speaker at their annual
meeting. He built his first flying model airplane at 10, discovered
science fiction at 12, built his first gunpowder rocket at 13,
and at fifteen, when he got his first glasses and saw the beauty
of the Oklahoma stars for the first time, he conceived his life's
ambition, to work with rockets and satellites "to bring mankind
closer to the stars." He was told there were no such careers.
He proved them wrong.
In the early 1960s as a NASA engineer, he heard about the proposed
"Voyager" Grand Tour of the outer planets and realized
that it could not be achieved without development of a reliable
long-term rocket control system that could survive the multi-year
voyage, yet none existed. He became the major developer of mono-propellant
hydrazine-fueled rocket steering engines first used for guidance
on Applications Technology Satellite (ATS-3) in 1967. The spacecraft
rocket guidance and control systems he designed are now standard
on most satellites and other weather, observation, and communications
spacecraft, and flew on the Viking Mars Lander in 1976, and Voyager
which exited our solar system.
1951 graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of
Philosophy degree. There he met Persis Burns whom he married in
1950. At U. of C. he was founder, vice-president, designer and
machinist for the University of Chicago Rocket Society where he
originated, designed and built a liquid oxygen / alcohol fueled
rocket motor of 20 pounds thrust and also a remote-controlled,
instrumented test stand for the motor which the club ground test-fired.
He worked at the Institute for Study of Metals and the Dept. of
Neurosurgery as a technician, designer, and machinist and designed
and built a new type of strain gauge for metallurgical research
and oscillograph pen-drivers for brain research.
1951 to 1955 - Boeing Aircraft engineer for BOMARC air defense
missile project in Seattle, WA. Responsible for high temperature
pressure instrumentation and ramjet engines. Developed ways to
stabilize instrument performance in supersonic conditions. Joined
the Seattle Mountaineers and climbed Mt. Saint Helens and all
but one of the other major peaks in the Cascade range.
1955 - Drafted as United States Army engineer, Fort Detrick,
Maryland in Chemical Corps for warfare defense systems. Studied
particle detection/counting methods, microbiology and explosives.
1957 - Research engineer, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in
Columbia, Maryland on TYPHON ICBM project and responsible for
high temperature instrumentation and signal conditioning equipment.
Helped setup an early Sputnik tracking station.
1957-1959 - Launch crew for Naval Research Lab/NASA's Vanguard
Operations Group. General engineer in charge of rocket sensor
instruments and close-up engineering motion pictures.
1959 - A founding employee of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
(GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland. Research engineer in the "Measurement
and Instrumentation Systems, Stabilization and Control Branch,"
for ground tests of "Scout" missile, procurement and
application of Goddard's first system for alignment of a spacecraft
by optical means and design and test of spacecraft propulsion
Early 1960s - Developer of hydrazine-fueled guidance engines.
1966-76 - Propulsion Systems Manager of "Spacecraft Propulsion
Branch," working on design, development, validation and launch
of propulsion systems on numerous spacecraft and responsible for
spacecraft mechanical and pyrotechnic systems and optical alignment.
In 1976 he was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for
the development and application of long-life propulsion systems
1976-84 - Design Manager of the "Preliminary Systems Design
Group" GSFC. He was responsible for the preliminary design
of potential spacecraft projects including the "Dynamics
Explorer," and a preliminary version of Fairchild Industries
1983 - Determined a way for "International Sun-Earth Explorer-3
(ISEE-3)" to pass through the moon's shadow without freezing,
allowing it to intercept comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985 and become
the first spacecraft to pass through a comets' tail to record
non-visual data in a mission NASA named the "International
Cometary Explorer (ICE)"
1984 - Deputy Manager for Customer Accommodation on NASA's "Space
Station Freedom Project" Johnson Space Center, and worked
on the configuration of both the manned and unmanned space station
1986 - GSFC "Manager for User Systems Requirements"
in the Space Station Project Office.
1990 -NASA "Advanced Missions Analysis Office" to guide
NASA's goals for future missions.
Retired in 1990 ending his 43-year aerospace career, but he consulted
on several NASA and commercial spacecraft projects afterward.
He also worked on other missions during his career including:
Delta 85-89, Titan III-C, ATS 1-5 & F-I, Intelstat IV, SMS,
RAE-B, and spacecraft design for launch on the Shuttle Orbiter.
He raised his family in Bowie, Maryland since 1962, and was active
in local and national social and political issues:
- Treasurer for PTA
- Preservationist for Whitemarsh Park
- Supported Charter for the City of Bowie
- Supported Maryland "Bottle Bill" for recycling glass
- Involved in the 1960's and 1970's civil rights movement, bringing
food and clothing for the poor into riot damaged Washington,
- Officer in "Berwyn Rod and Gun Club" Bowie, Maryland.
- Certified firearm safety and marksmanship instructor.
- Life member of the NRA and supporter of other civil rights
and public safety organizations.
- Board of Directors, Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association.
- Member of "Citizens Against the Gun Ban," "The
Firearms Coalition," "The Citizens Committee for the
Right to Keep and Bear Arms."
He is survived by his wife Persis Burns Suddeth of Bowie, Maryland,
daughter Deirdre Suddeth - Glen Burnie, Maryland, son Stephen
Brian Suddeth - Bowie, Maryland, and son Peter Dylan Suddeth -
Boonville, California and their spouses and his grandchildren.
Mr. Suddeth has been cremated and his ashes scattered privately.
A portion of his ashes are being kept in a hand blown bottle made
of volcanic glass from Mt. St. Helens, as a family heirloom. His
ashes are to be taken along when one of his direct descendants
leaves Earth for the first time to bring him "closer to the